Information systems professionals help to achieve business and organizational goals through the use of information technology.a The information systems (IS) profession is teamoriented and project-based. It involves a blend of business knowledge and understanding, technical skills, and working relationships with business and technical professionals. The skills and knowledge involved range from traditional computing, wide ranging business related studies, to “soft” skills useful in working with individuals and teams to achieve organizational objectives. IS students are first and foremost concerned with future employability. Employers, on the other hand, often indicate that they want new graduates who can be immediately productive in their environment. Are the aspirations of students and employers fundamentally incompatible? How can IS educators help to find a workable and satisfying balance? How can information systems educators achieve a better fit between the workplace and the university “studyplace”?
The past decades have been characterized by a rapidly and constantly changing business environment. Lee, Trauth, and Farwell (1995) argued that technological and sociological developments facilitated by evolving information technology and changing business needs has made it necessary for IS professionals to develop a wider range of nontechnical skills than was previously the case. Similar views have been expressed by many others, including Burn, Ng, and Ma (1995), Cafasso (1996); Lowry, Morgan, and FitzGerald, (1996); Morgan, Lowry, and FitzGerald (1998). Beise, Niederman, Quan, and Moody (2005) saw a need for the reform of undergraduate IS programs to specifically target the global IT environment by adding a global business perspective to existing curricula or by developing new curricula focusing on globalized information management. The perpetual global competition for skilled information systems professionals continues unabated (Florida, 2005; Schwarzkopf, Saunders, Jasperson & Croes, 2004).
The preparation of IS professionals must encompass a body of knowledge and a repertoire of technical skills identified by various professional bodies (ACM-AIS, 2002; Cheney, Hale, & Kasper, 1990; Cohen, 2000; Davis, Gorgone, Feinstein & Longenecker, 1997; Gorgone & Gray, 1999; Lidtke, Stokes, Haines & Mulder, 1999; Lyytinen & King, 2004; Mulder & van Weert, 2000; Underwood, 1997). IS curricula must take cognizance of the greater diversity within the IT labour force as a result of globalization (Trauth, Huang, Morgan, Quesenberry & Yeo, 2006).
The persistent research finding that employers want graduates who possess better business skills has often been interpreted by academics to mean that more traditional, formal business subjects such as accounting, economics, business finance, and marketing should be taught alongside traditional technical or “hard” skill subjects such as systems analysis & design and programming in particular languages. (Amarego, 2005; Gardiner, 2005; Holt, MacKay & Smith, 2004; Lee, 2005; Leong & Tan, 2004; Litecky, Arnett & Prabhakar, 2004; Medlin, 2004; Trauth, Farwell, & Lee, 1993; Van Slyke, Kittner, & Cheney, 1997). Beachboard and Parker (2003) observed that course requirements in model curricula likely contain more technical material than can be covered in an undergraduate course. On the other hand, “soft” areas such as teamwork, communication skills, ability to accept direction, and others are expected to be somehow “picked up” along the way by students through an unspecified, osmotic process and not addressed as part of a curriculum. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence continues to suggest that at least some new graduates continue to lack “soft skills” (Maiden, 2004). Berghel and Sallach (2004) maintain that a curriculum must take account of developments in technologies, business models, and applications to enable students to build the necessary competencies.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Project-Based Learning: An active learning approach that focuses on developing a product or creation. The project may or may not be student-centered, problem-based, or inquiry-based. Project-based learning uses open-ended assignments that provides students with a degree of choice, and extends over a considerable period of time. Teachers act as facilitator, designing activities and providing resources and advice to students. Instruction and facilitation are guided by a broad range of teaching goals. Students collect and analyze information, make discoveries, and report their results. Projects are often interdisciplinary.
Work-Integrated Learning: WIL is a hybrid approach that achieves learning outcomes through a combination of alternating periods of traditional academic pedagogy with extended periods of practical experience in the professional workplace. Work-Integrated Learning is a mature pedagogical strategy that is often referred to as “sandwich” and “end-on” courses.
Inquiry-Based Learning: A student-centered, active learning approach focusing on questioning, critical thinking, and problem-solving. IBL is expressed by the idea “involve me and I understand”. The IBL approach is more focused on using and learning content as a means to develop information-processing and problem-solving skills. The system is more student-centered, with the teacher as a facilitator of learning. There is more emphasis on “how we come to know” and less on “what we know”. Students are involved in the construction of knowledge through active involvement. The more interested and engaged students are by a subject or project, the easier it will be for them to construct in-depth knowledge of it. Learning becomes easier when reflects their interests and goals and piques their natural curiosity.
Problem-Based Learning: Is an active learning strategy that may be suitable for better preparing information systems students for professional practice. In the problem-based approach, complex, real world problems or cases are used to motivate students to identify and research concepts and principles they need to know in order to progress through the problems. Students work in small learning teams, bringing together collective skill at acquiring, communicating, and integrating information in a process that resembles that of inquiry.
Soft Skills: Cultivated elements of professionalism that derive from example, reflection, imitation, and refinement of attitudes, personal capabilities, work habits, and interpersonal skills and are expressed in consistent and superior performance, characterized by a customer service and team orientation. Current MIS curriculum examples such as ability to work as a member of a team, well-developed oral and written presentation skills, and the ability to work independently, are shown in rank-order in Figure 2 .
Hard Skills: Measurable capabilities and academic knowledge acquired through traditional tertiary study. Current MIS curriculum examples such communications and report writing, systems analysis and design, client/server applications, and business applications, are shown in rank-order in Figure 1 .